Members will be aware that we recently started work on the Radcliffe Red List, an initiative to identify endangered crafts in the UK, supported by the Radcliffe Trust. We have just launched a simplified version of the wiki website as a survey. There are only 10 short questions to complete about your craft and your responses are vital for helping us build a picture. Do please take a look!
When a craft business that has a special part in our history is in danger of closing what should we do? How about buy it and spend large sums of public money on preserving the building, artifacts and accumulated detritus whilst letting the last skilled artisans stop work and walk away?
Two years ago I blogged about JW Evans Silversmiths in Birmingham. It had just been saved for the nation by English Heritage and at the time they said “at the heart of this decision is the desire to safeguard a skilled craft which is seriously under threat.”
Well after two years JW Evans is now open to the public for pre-booked tours, it looks fantastic and well worth a visit but how well do you think they have done at safeguarding a skilled craft? Seems that they have preserved all the fabric but lost the living heritage of the skills that made the place important. I feel we need a new way to look after this part of our heritage, apart from anything else turning businesses into museums is incredibly expensive. We could learn from the Spanish, I visited the knife making town of Taramundi where many small artisan workshops are open to the public on a sort of heritage tourist trail. This means they get lots of business which keeps the heritage truly alive rather than some preserved in aspic snap shot of how it used to be done.
More info and book your tour here
Until the 1960’s many wooden ladders were made in the UK, one of the largest makers being John Ward and Son Ladder Makers, where Stanley learnt his craft. Overnight with the introduction of aluminium ladders the wooden ladder making trade died. There was demand for the wooden type but it was cheaper for these customers to purchase in the second hand market – a supply that was plentiful with so many users converting to aluminium.
Fifty years later there is still demand for wooden ladders, from historic buildings, open air museums and heritage craftspeople such as thatchers. However, the supply has now dried up as the old ones reach the end of their lifespan and no new ones have been made. The issue was highlighted last year when BBC TV wished to film a ladder maker for their Edwardian Farm program but none were to be found. At the time we launched this appeal, we knew of no practising ladder makers in the UK (but read more below).
But, the knowledge and experience still remains with at least one man, and he is willing to help. In 2014 HCA will organise a two day workshop so Stanley can pass on his skills to professional woodworkers. The workshop will be filmed and an instructional film produced so that these rare skills can be disseminated further via the internet. Stanley has also produced a series of paintings and written on the subject which we would publish to further preserve the craft for the future.
We are aware of other crafts which need support, and welcome donations to continue this work.